It’s about time for another look inside Smashing Magazine, isn’t it? Today, we’ll introduce you to the secrets of the editorial team here, which is headed by one member in particular: Vitaly Friedman. What is his job? What are the responsibilities of an editor-in-chief? What tricks does he have?
As you would expect of an editor-in-chief, Vitaly Friedman is responsible for the content on Smashing Magazine. Therefore, he has to constantly search for new ideas and have a critical eye for articles he receives from writers. In addition, being online, the communication process itself has some peculiarities: namely, it takes a lot of time. Thus, Vitaly has three main task groups: communicating (about 50 to 60% of his time), finding article ideas (5 to 10%) and editing articles (25 to 30%).
I would say that my responsibility is to publish only interesting and accurate articles. But sometimes I fail because my projection of readers' reaction is not quite accurate or the comments drive the article in an unexpected direction.
– Vitaly Friedman
Communicating takes a lot of time. Between email, Skype, Google Talk, Facebook and Twitter, there is always something going on and someone to reply to. Email can easily become a nightmare. We once calculated that over four years, 36,000 emails have been answered. Most of them were for the purpose of providing feedback or maintaining a communication channel with readers.
It's important to me that, even though the number of emails grows, we remain connected to our readership and listen carefully to what they have to say. It takes a lot of time, but I am confident it is absolutely worth it!
– Vitaly Friedman
Providing constructive and concrete criticism to writers is a crucial part of the email communication. Being able to tell writers exactly what can be improved in their articles is also what makes an editor-in-chief respected as a professional.
I believe that staying in touch with writers is crucial, because they need to feel that they are being taken seriously, and that requires a certain level of professionalism. Being able to look at an article from various perspectives and advocate for the interests and expectations of our audience is necessary. That is the main objective of my work.
– Vitaly Friedman
Finding Article Ideas
Authors are, of course, free to suggest topics to cover. However—and here’s an interesting bit—Vitaly has noticed that assigning topics to people is sometimes more effective. Upon reflection, it makes sense: the editor-in-chief is the one responsible for the consistency and direction of the website. Therefore, he knows best what would fit the editorial style of the magazine.
But it also means that he has to know who to assign a topic to, leading to one of the trickiest parts of the job: knowing what a writer is both interested in and capable of. (Of course, I know from first-hand experience that the huge expectation of readers alone is enough to test whether a writer is capable of meeting the magazine’s standards of quality.)
As for finding new topics, I’m not revealing any secrets by saying that Vitaly doesn’t get most of his ideas in the office. Activities such as jogging and going to the museum help a lot. Considering how often he goes to the gym, I suspect most articles are conceived during an intense workout… if not from a good old paper notebook for brainstorming.
Editing is a critical part of the publishing process. Once a writer submits an article for review, Vitaly reviews it and analyzes its consistency, quality, style and tone. He reads it carefully to provide feedback on what can be improved, which usually takes about 30 minutes.
Among the things to consider, an editor-in-chief has to make sure that writers adhere to the magazine’s publishing policy. Editing is full of gray areas, and the guidelines given to authors have to be carefully followed. For example, commercial and affiliate links related to the author are not allowed in articles, and the editor-in-chief has to catch articles that would come off as sponsored publicity.
This can require a bit of diplomacy, especially when an article is sent back for revision several times.
Some writers are quick to jump to conclusions and get defensive, so it's important to make sure they understand that I expect a certain level of professionalism from both me and them. Editing and reworking the article is necessary on both sides.
– Vitaly Friedman
Did You Know?
You might not be aware of the strict process that articles go through before being published. Take a look at Smashing Magazine’s publishing policy.
First, Smashing has a list of experts who it contacts when articles need to be reviewed. These experts cover various areas, including:
- Web development and coding,
- Optimization and performance,
- Front-end development,
- Visual design,
Secondly, all articles are carefully corrected by the proofreading company Edit Owl. That mysterious (al) at the end of every article stands for Andrew Lobo, Edit Owl’s owner. The funny thing is that the Smashing team has never met him because he lives in Canada and Smashing’s office is in Germany.
In short, once Vitaly Friedman has looked at an article, he decides on one of the following actions:
- Send the article back to the writer, with feedback, for revision;
- Send it to the proofreader;
- Ask an expert for their opinion;
- Schedule or publish it.
For your interest, here is an extract of the editorial guidelines that are sent to new writers. It details a bit of the whole process:
Usually we start with a "test" article, for a price of $?. If it goes well, we increase payment for subsequent articles. We have no tight deadlines—quality is important to us. However, we ask that writers keep us informed of their progress; we can usually guide writers in the right direction, assist them and support them with ideas and resources. In most cases, we ask that writers send us a rough draft or sketch of their article first. The editorial team then discusses it and provides you with detailed feedback.
Once that's done, you prepare the article, submit it to WordPress and notify us of the submission (via email). We'll provide you with feedback and ask you to revise the article accordingly. If the article is okay, we'll publish it in the magazine. Finally, you send us the invoice, and we pay you immediately (usually via PayPal).
Prices are negotiated.
Actually, the starting price varies. I vary it depending on the quality I can expect from the writer. If I see that the author's other articles are impressive and promising, then I raise the starting price to attract their attention.
– Vitaly Friedman
A Simple Google Spreadsheet
In the beginning, Vitaly Friedman and Sven Lennartz worked a lot to produce the content themselves, but they had no real short-term editorial plan. You can imagine how stressful it was not to know what would be published even the next day. Sven Lennartz, who had a lot of experience in this area, taught Vitaly Friedman that they had no need for sophisticated tools. And so they started their now trusty Google Spreadsheet, which now contains the entire editorial plan and archive.
The spreadsheet has a lot of information because it is used to manage the content not only of Smashing Magazine but of Noupe and Dr. Web, too. The spreadsheet is organized into three categories: date, title and status.
The spreadsheet’s several pages contain the following:
- Editorial plan,
- Deep archive,
- Article ideas,
- Contact info for Smashing’s experts panel.
Let’s look at the editorial plan, which is the most important. It is divided into several columns:
- Upcoming articles for about the next two weeks,
- Articles that have to be or have been proofread,
- Articles currently being written,
- Archive of the preceding year.
The articles are categorized by column, and each is assigned a status:
- N = not ready yet,
- R = proofread,
- F = finished,
- P = published or scheduled.
The spreadsheet is a simple yet efficient tool, because it makes it easy to see at a glance what has been published in the past week, month or year. It also makes clear what articles are being prepared, what needs to be monitored and what’s done. Finally, it provides an overview of upcoming topics.
I hope you’ve learned from this inside look at Smashing Magazine. If you enjoyed it, feel free to share your thoughts and tips. How do you manage your blog’s content? What difficulties do you encounter? Or just let me know that you like this kind of post. :)